Consumers Energy’s offices at One Energy Plaza, Jackson. Source. Licensed Under Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0.
In a recent op-ed in the Lansing State Journal, Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan Executive Director Amy Bandyk writes that it is “the utilities themselves,” rather than other alleged culprits like rooftop solar customers, that “have made our electricity more expensive and unreliable by failing to invest in the distribution system wisely.” What exactly do we mean by “wise” investments into the electric grid?
New testimony filed on behalf of CUB and other groups in Consumers Energy’s electric rate case strikes at the heart of why Michigan has such a problem with electric reliability, and what to do about it.Read more
A little over a year ago we were concerned about the pandemic causing thousands of utility customers to not be able to pay their bills, creating a huge backlog of customer debt. While we know that many of those fears did indeed come to pass, it has been difficult to determine the extent to which customers became indebted because the data from the utilities is far from transparent.
Now, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) is releasing a public database that hopefully can make this information more accessible. This “COVID-19 Utility Customer Data” site, available here, “features a database of regularly updated information on the number of regulated utility customers whose service has been shut off for nonpayment and customers who've had their service restored, as well as the number of customers enrolled in assistance plans and information on the number of customers who are 30, 60, 90 or more days past due on their utility bills,” the MPSC said in a news release.Read more
Moving toward more affordable, reliable and clean energy is not just about where the energy comes from, be that wind, solar, natural gas, hydro or another source. Just as important is how to get the energy from where it is generated to the consumer. Most people have a basic understanding of how a wind turbine, a solar panel or a gas-burning plant works, but the web of transmission lines that criss-cross the country is more mysterious.Read more
Imagine your sole source of heating in the midst of a harsh Michigan winter is your kitchen’s oven. That is not just a hypothetical situation. Bethany Stutzman, community solutions director at United Way of Jackson County, said she has seen it happen when visiting a client, and it is especially worrying when there are children running around with an open oven.
Her point, raised during a panel discussion of affordability experts at the June 16 meeting of the Michigan Public Service Commission’s (MPSC) Energy Affordability and Accessibility Collaborative, was not to shock, but to illustrate the negative effects that financial burdens from high energy bills can have—effects that cannot be easily captured in terms of dollars and cents. As another panelist, Shama Mounzer of Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, said, “if you are unable to keep your family warm, that is causing you to have a financial burden, and that is causing you to have anxiety.” That anxiety in turn causes households to try to keep warm through unsafe ways, Mounzer said.
(See this previous blog post introducing the collaborative.)Read more
There has been a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for “smart” energy technologies that can empower consumers to cut their energy bills, improve their efficiency and use more clean energy through smart thermostats, rooftop solar, battery storage and more. The fuel for all of these tools is data. Data in easily accessible digital form is more important than ever, but a lot of our utility bills are still stuck in paper or PDF formats.
In addition, we have to make sure that more data being available does not violate people’s privacy and cause data to end up in the wrong hands. CUB of Illinois has had success in implementing a framework to provide access to while also protecting customer data in that state.
As part of the MI Power Grid initiative to modernize Michigan’s energy regulations, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) has convened a Customer Education and Participation workgroup. This group just started a series of public meetings that examine questions around data access. The first of these was on May 25, and it laid out how lack of data access is holding back the growth of energy efficiency and other developments in Michigan.Read more
The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan talks a lot in this space about how Michigan has unaffordable energy and how lower-income communities are especially burdened by high energy bills. How does Michigan, as a community, address these inequities (which fall disproportionately on communities of color)? What’s more, as the state and other players try to modernize the electric grid and transition to cleaner energy in order to meet the recently-announced net-zero emissions goals, how do we avoid making the inequitable burden worse? To address these questions, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) just held the multi-day Michigan Environmental Justice Conference, which was titled “Rebuilding Trust, Reimagining Justice and Removing Barriers.”
The whole event is on YouTube and features speakers including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. CUB Executive Director Amy Bandyk was honored to speak on a panel along with EGLE Climate and Energy Advisor Dr. Brandy Brown and Dr. Tony Reames, assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability.Read more
Photo Source: Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance
A very simple way to save money on your utility bill is to use less energy in the first place. It can be difficult, however, to change one’s habits around energy use. That is why efficiency upgrades to living environments—better insulation to keep the house airtight, high-performance windows that maximize sunlight in winter and minimize it in summer, “smart” controls for lighting and appliances, to name a few examples—are so effective. They are “set it and forget it” ways to passively reduce energy consumption.Read more
Photo by Brendan Wood, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0
The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan has been calling for an overhaul of programs to assist Michigan utility customers, particularly low-income and/or elderly customers. So we are happy to see a new effort underway by state regulators to figure out exactly how to fix many of the problems with existing aid programs. This effort stems from Michigan regulators’ response to the pandemic, but let’s be clear: even before the pandemic, the problems were still there. The pandemic has just heightened the urgency.Read more
Michigan regulators can confront two of the biggest challenges for energy consumers—poor electric reliability and the inequitable treatment of low to moderate-income customers—through data-driven changes to the way utilities are regulated, Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan Executive Director Amy Bandyk said March 26, speaking on a panel at the 16th Annual Michigan Forum on Economic Regulatory Policy, a conference held by the Michigan State University Institute of Public Utilities (IPU).Read more
Photo source. Licensed through Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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The Upper Peninsula Task Force has released its final report, a culmination of almost two years of conversations with energy providers, municipal leaders, regulators, academics, consultants and the general public. While the goal of the report is “to provide a roadmap for actions the state could take to improve affordability, enhance reliability, and promote energy security for UP residents,” the issues it confronts are some of the thorniest energy supply problems found anywhere.
That means that while the focus is how to help UP residents, the report is very relevant for energy consumers anywhere, including the Lower Peninsula. If policymakers and communities can address affordability and energy insecurity in a region with some of the most challenging geography for delivering electricity to customers, they can do so anywhere.Read more